In a way, Molly Ringwald is a lot like anyone who’s known for just one thing. Whether it’s an iconic actress, or an accountant, mom or former-football quarterback — labels become inadequate to describe the sum of the aspirations and ideas we have for ourselves. Molly, for example, also writes books and sings jazz.
Life goes on, and while we can’t erase the vestige of our former accomplishments, most wouldn’t want to get rid of them completely. Or as The Guardian’s Mark Blackwell puts it, “Molly Ringwald doesn’t shun the past, she just refuses to walk around in it.”
True enough, in the 30-plus years since the generation-defining movies “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” hit the silver screen — a heavy mantle for anyone, much less a teenager to carry — Ringwald continues to discuss the coming-of-age films, cheerfully and often gratefully. The bio line of her recently launched Twitter account, @MollyRingwald, even reads “your former teenage crush.”
She understands the mere mention of her name is a touchstone to a specific time in our lives, harkening back to certain music, people, clothes and even hairstyles. But time, unlike nostalgia, isn’t fixed in the mind’s eye; it doesn’t stand still, and neither do people, who grow, evolve and move on.
Ringwald joins a growing number of stars and everyday people alike who are adding dimensions to their lives as they pivot to new stages — and discovering how technology can play a crucial role in this transformation. The Internet has created platforms for us to explore our interests, and social media is fueling these reinventions by connecting us in unheard of before ways.
Ringwald relied on digital tools as she moved beyond Hollywood to one of her first loves: writing. And this summer, she unveiled her book, “When It Happens to You.” In it, she uses a series of interconnected short stories to mine the complexities of modern relationships, seemingly following Anais Nin’s dictum to “not say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” And her nuanced stories explore how a Los Angeles family, friends and neighbors negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life.
As an author, wife and mother of three children, she took a moment to talk to us about writing parts of the novel on her iPhone, joining Twitter and reconnecting with fans, as well as her advice to young stars in this age of social media.
2MACHINES: You composed parts of the novel on your iPhone, including the title story, “When It Happens to You.” You said, “There’s something very freeing about writing when no one expects you to be writing,” about tapping on the Apple smartphone. Can you elaborate?
RINGWALD: I find the iPhone incredibly useful for writing notes. I used to just write them on little scraps of paper, but invariably I would lose them. Having all of the notes in one place has helped enormously with the organization needed for my writing.
2MACHINES: You’re a busy wife, mother, actress and writer. What other tech tools do you use to boost your creativity? Or to save time or connect with your family?
RINGWALD: In terms of other tech tools, everybody in our family has our own set of apps, but I feel like it is my job as a mother to make sure that the time spent on the said apps is limited.
My three-year-old son could stay on the iPad all day, but I want to make sure that he knows and enjoys the feeling of a book in his hands while printed books are still around.
2MACHINES: Speaking of e-books and traditional books, you’re in an interesting place as a book lover and an author. What are your thoughts on e-books and how it affects publishing?
RINGWALD: I use an iPad to read when I travel, although I use the Kindle app because it is better stocked at present than the iBook store. I love e-books for the incredible convenience, and have found myself buying and reading more than I ever did.
Still, I think it is important to support independent bookstores. So many of my favorite bookstores have been closing and it makes me sad — these are the places that offered great comfort to me growing up. I remember escaping to “The Village Voice” bookstore when I lived in Paris, and I actually grew up across the street from Dutton’s bookstore and spent more time there than I did at home.
Both of these treasures are no longer here. I feel it is a bit like closing movie theaters after the invention of television, and that one should not replace the other.
The e-reading public is only going to get bigger, and it is going to take some time to figure out exactly what the new model is going to be so that the publishing houses can stay in business and writers can still get paid.
I am in a unique position because I make my living as an actor, but God knows writing books has never been considered a financially lucrative business — writers do it because they love writing. But if they are unable to make a living at it, because of lower advances due to the publishing houses’ inability to compete with the prices set by e-book retailers, I worry about how this will affect certain genres, particularly literary fiction.
2MACHINES: You came into the spotlight as a teen before the advent of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and you recently commented on friend Jodie Foster’s piece about Kristen Stewart’s public treatment involving infidelity in The Daily Beast where she said, in part:
“In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life. Sure, you’d have to lose your spontaneity in the elaborate architecture. You’d have to learn to submerge beneath the foul air and breathe through a straw. But at least you could stand up and say, I will not willfully participate in my own exploitation. Not anymore.”
In light of that incident and the nearly daily stream of others, what are your views are on young actors today dealing with all that young fame entails in such a viral media culture?
RINGWALD: I think the advice that my mother gave me back when I was a teenager still applies today. Never write, say or do anything that you wouldn’t mind seeing on the cover of the New York Times. It is something that I still hear in my head and it has saved me a lot of potential embarrassment.
I try to impress on my eight-year-old daughter the idea of privacy, which is an increasingly obscure idea in our media driven culture. It’s hard for her to understand that it’s something to be valued and that only she can control it. But I’m hoping that it is something that she will understand better as she matures.
2MACHINES: You credit Twitter and Facebook with providing a new way to connect with your fans. In fact, a “Twitter war” started over your opinion that “Duckie” in “Pretty in Pink” was gay.
You also said, “There are a lot of people who are just absolutely clueless that I’ve continued to grow and evolve and be someone else.”
What are your thoughts on how technology helps to build on your success and what role it can play in reinventing a career?
RINGWALD: I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoy Twitter as much as I do. I have fun with it and it has given my fans a chance to get to know me in a way that they haven’t before.
I would say that it is actually more authentic because it is not going through the filter of another media outlet. I have been frustrated at times over the years that no matter what I would say, it would be taken out of context and editorialized in such a way to service a story that already seemed to have been written. With Twitter, for better or for worse, people are getting me in my own words. One thing that I have learned — never tweet before morning coffee.
2MACHINES: What other tech gadgets do you have or are planning to get — or is there some fantastic innovation or idea you’d love to see in the future?
RINGWALD: I am very happy with the gadgets that I have now. However, because my father is blind — and very tech savvy — I would love for there to be a special-edition iPhone made just for the blind. It is pretty much impossible for a blind person to navigate the touch screen, so there would have to be some changes made, but I would be so thrilled if they would think about something like that.
2MACHINES: We’ll be the first to let you know if Apple announces one. Thanks for your time, Molly.
Ringwald is a case study in how social media and other technology can help people grow and expand in new direction. Maybe one of the best examples is Ringwald’s own editorial in the New York Times blog.
In it, Ringwald asserts that readers and audiences are the people who truly make the characters live, saying, “Now, as the metaphorical curtain is about to go up on my own book, I sit in the audience, alternately anxious and elated, waiting to see how these actors will transform my words through their own personal experiences.” This sentiment touches on an eternal truth about art, whether it be jazz music, writing or sculpture presented to past audiences in London’s Globe theatre or viewed today on a mobile tablet device.
The world is constantly changing, and while leg warmers and typewriters have given way to the iPhone and Twitter, some things — like the connection between artist and audience — endures, no matter what the platform. As another famous writer, John Cheever, said, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”
Amazon sells “When It Happens to You” in hardcover and Kindle formats for $14. ♦